The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek
The one sentence summary: Leaders who adopt an infinite mindset build stronger, more innovative and inspiring organisations – playing in an infinite game with a finite mindset doesn’t work.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
Finite games have clear rules, participants and beginnings and endings. The Infinite Game does not – it never finishes. That’s what business is. You don’t win your career or life, and you don’t beat the competition – it all just carries on and on.
Many businesses and business leaders get this all wrong by applying finite thinking to infinite issues. “What’s best for me” is finite thinking. “What’s best for us” is infinite thinking. Short-term thinking kills businesses.
Sadly, finite-thinking leadership has become the norm. The average lifespan of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company has dropped by over forty years since the 1950s (from 61 to 18 years old).
Many executives now suffer from finite exhaustion – continually chasing goal after (short-term) goal. For example, 70-90% of acquisitions are abysmal failures.
There are three factors to consider when deciding how to lead:
- We don’t get to choose whether a particular game is finite or infinite.
- We do get to choose whether or not we want to join the game.
- Should we choose to join the game, we can choose whether we want to play with a finite or infinite mindset.
Assuming you want to adopt the preferable infinite mindset, you need 5 essential practices:
- Advance a Just Cause
- Build Trusting Teams
- Study your Worthy Rivals
- Prepare for Existential Flexibility
- Demonstrate the Courage to Lead
2 and 5 are fairly self-explanatory. As for the others: A Just Cause gives purpose and meaning. If you’re working on something bigger than any particular (short-term) win, days take on meaning and feel more fulfilling. It needs to be:
- For something, not against it: i.e. positive action. Not ‘fight against poverty’ but ‘fight for the right for every human to provide for their family.’
- Inclusive: inspiring more than just self or company.
- Service-oriented: benefiting more than just self or company.
- Resilient: it must be greater than the products made or services offered.
- Idealistic: no matter how much is achieved, there is always further to go.
If the words of a Just Cause are used simply to boost a brand image, attract passionate employees, or help drive a short-term goal, the impact will be short-lived.
A Just Cause is not being the best, growth, or Corporate Social Responsibility. Note the difference between ‘Make money to do good’ (traditional CSR) and ‘Do good making money’ (ethical business).
Worthy rivals involves respecting other players in a market. A mature executive regards them not as competition to smash, but a worthy rival to offer a contrast and comparison to what their company does.
Existential flexibility involves keeping the cause but possibly adjusting the delivery mechanism or product. For example, if publishers had seen themselves as being in the spreading-ideas business rather than simply books, they might have invented Amazon or the digital e-reader.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT
Most C-level executives have their area of responsibility built into their title: Chief Financial Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Technology Officer, and so on. The CEO does not, so what exactly are they supposed to do?
It was Milton Friedman in the 70s who ruined everything by stating that the purpose of a company was to generate as much money as possible for its shareholders. In fact it is the responsibility of a business to:
- Advance a purpose.
- Protect people.
- Generate a profit.
Ethical fading is when a company culture allows people to act in unethical ways to advance their own interests at the expense of others, whilst falsely believing that they have not compromised their moral principles. It usually starts with small, seemingly innocuous transgressions that then grow and compound.
Cause blindness is when we become so wrapped up in our cause, or the apparent ‘wrongness’ of the other player’s cause, that we fail to recognise their strengths or our weaknesses.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
The theme of the book is not original to the author (he does acknowledge this). It comes from a 1986 short book by Dr. James Carse.
One could argue that the term Just Cause is essentially the same as many people’s current interpretation of Purpose.